Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is putting public safety and government accountability at the forefront by calling for a state commission’s report on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre to be made as public as possible. State and local officials stand to learn significant lessons from the Feb. 14 mass shooting, which left 17 people dead and another 17 wounded. A full, public release of the report offers the best chance to learn from the tragedy, dispel false information and restore public faith in first responders and the safety net.
Gualtieri’s comments come at a critical time for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which he chairs. The panel aims to help create a better system in Florida for identifying and responding to risks on school campuses and to threats of mass violence more generally. Gualtieri, who is also an attorney, told the Times editorial board Wednesday his goal is to release the entire report with nothing redacted for privacy or security reasons.
Gualtieri acknowledges the balancing act in disclosing as much information as possible while adhering to privacy laws and concerns about protecting school security procedures. But he is right to try to set the public record straight so that the public and policymakers will have a complete, accurate picture of what evolved in the months and years before the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, returned with a semiautomatic rifle to his old high school. "It’s imperative we be successful at it," he said.
Being as open as possible is in the best interests of the state and reflects Gualtieri’s positive influence as chairman of the commission. Already, he has worked to debunk several false narratives that pointed to gross breakdowns in the social services system. Gualtieri said the record will show that Cruz received extensive mental health services and that a full public report would make that apparent without disclosing Cruz’s clinical records, for example. The same careful considerations are possible in noting Cruz’s school history, his family’s interactions with the police and the response that day by law enforcement. The goal here is to pinpoint gaps in the system, communication failures or breakdowns on the job, not to invade the privacy of Cruz or anyone else.
The panel, which is meeting again today in South Florida, faces a Jan. 1 deadline to report its initial findings to the state in advance of the legislative session in March. A full report would help rally public and legislative support for improvements to the public safety net, from increased funding for mental health and school support services to better communications between police, schools and private providers. A commitment to openness also would send a timely message to local law enforcement and the school system that the public has a right to learn all it can about what happened in the run-up to the mass high school shooting in Parkland. Media organizations should not have to file lawsuits to try to make public reports and records related to the government’s response — and the Broward School District should be ashamed for asking a judge to hold the South Florida Sun Sentinel and two of its reporters in contempt for publishing confidential but legally obtained information about Cruz.
Gualtieri is on the right track. This state commission owes Floridians a fair, accurate, complete and transparent account of the tragedy so this state can adopt significant reforms to make its children and its schools safer.